MARITIME | Shipping company: pirates seize German vessel

BERLIN (USATODAY.com) — A German cargo vessel with 12 crew members aboard that was attacked and seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean is now being steered toward the Somali coast, a shipping company said Tuesday.

Pirates attacked the MV Beluga Nomination in the Indian Ocean Saturday north of theSeychelles, “far away from the internationally defined zone of high risk at the Horn of Africa,” Beluga Group said in a statement.

The cargo ship with its crew of a Polish captain, two Ukrainians, two Russians and seven sailors from the Philippines was on its way from Malta to Masan in South Korea, the company said.

After two days aboard, the pirates have managed to break into the MV Beluga Nomination’s control room and the ship — some 433 feet (132 meters) long and flying the flag of Antigua and Barbuda— now seems to be heading west toward the Somali coast, the statement said.

Somali pirates — operating more broadly than ever in the Indian Ocean — currently hold more than 30 vessels and some 750 crewmembers of various nationalities, according to a recent report by the International Maritime Bureau.

Niels Stolberg, managing director for Beluga Shipping GmbH, based in Bremen, Germany, criticized the international naval forces patrolling the coast off Somalia for failing to come to the sailors’ help.

“We have no explanation on how no outside help could be offered within the two and half days that the crew had been hiding in the safe room,” he said.

Stolberg said that the EU’s anti-pirate mission Operation Atalanta failed to act even though they had already been alerted Saturday afternoon. It was only on Monday that a surveillance plane from the Seychelles’ coast guard overflew the vessel and spotted at least four pirates on deck, he said.

But the EU force, which patrols the waters off Somalia’s coast, said its nearest warship at the time of the attack was over 1,000 nautical miles away, waiting to escort a World Food Programme vessel delivering vital humanitarian aid to Somalia.

The force said in a statement that the attack with a skiff and small arms fire took place 400 nautical miles north of the Seychelles, but Beluga Group said the incident happened some 800 nautical miles north of the tiny island nation.

There was no immediate explanation for the difference.

Beluga Group spokeswoman Verena Beckhusen declined to disclose what cargo the vessel was carrying, and the company would not say whether it has been in contact with the crew or the pirates since the attack.

In October, one of Beluga Group’s cargo vessels seized off eastern Africa was freed by the international naval forces in the region a few days after being seized by pirates in the Indian Ocean east of Mombasa, Kenya.

Stolberg then said a British frigate, a surveillance plane and a helicopter had been involved in freeing the MV Beluga Fortune, but by the time the military entered the vessel the pirates had already fled.

AP

 

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